If you have noticed some odd behaviours in your Google Discover feed recently, you are not alone. These changes have been noticed on some webmaster forums since early in March and now users on Reddit have started noticing, too, with reports of feeds being filled with outdated content and some users saying they are not getting any suggested articles in their feeds at all.
Google Discover is a personalised feed of suggested articles that shows up on mobile devices. Every user’s feed is different and while the mystery of its algorithm is not known at all (unlike search, where there are some insights).
An article recently published on Moz written by Wix’s official liaison, Mordy Oberstein, did offer some interesting anecdotal evidence on what kind of behaviours might influence what users see in their Discover feeds. But over the last few weeks, there have been increasing reports of the Discover algorithm going completely rogue.
The thread currently gaining momentum over on Reddit has a slew of reports from users saying they have noticed an increase in the number of older and, in some cases irrelevant, articles appearing in their feeds.
While Google Discover showing older content is not entirely unusual – but it usually shows up under an “in case you missed it” label. Lately, that has not been the case. Articles simply show up in their standard format, without any indication that the content might be older.
Other users are also reporting cases of their search history disappearing completely and being replaced by only ‘trending’ searches. While there has been an spike in reports of Discover feeds behaving badly, there are several reports starting early in March with users reporting similar issues with the usual troubleshooting protocols of clearing the cache and “turning it off and on” yielding no results.
Publishers have been reporting issues with Discover since 3 March, with drastic drops in impressions for no apparent reason. For some publishers, the quirk in the Google Discover algorithm has been detrimental with reports of impressions dropping to zero from tens of thousands a day – without any apparent reason.
Update: To clarify, in case it is not clear, the issue is not so much with Discover showing older content. Older content being displayed is a feature of Discover Feeds. The issue, however, is that this content is not being marked as older with the usual “In Case You Missed It” label.
The older articles are also appearing between more recent articles – making it difficult to distinguish at a glance what is fresh and what is “evergreen”. The example below is a screenshot taken today (on 29 March 2021, blurred images, logos and headlines for the sake of brevity because there is always the chance of a segue into the headline of the piece rather than the issue being discussed).
While Google has always urged publishers to view any Discover traffic as a “bonus”, these drastic declines can be devastating, as per several forum threads.
It is something I have noticed in my personal feed, as well as with ETM articles that have been surfacing in Discover (according to Google Search Console). In some cases this month, my personal feed has stopped showing suggested articles completely – even when refreshing repeatedly and on two different devices using separate accounts.
There has also been an increase in articles that are only vaguely related to topics I have engaged with. Hiking trails is perhaps the most notable of these. While I do create hiking content and engage with the topic often, Discover has often suggested content around routes at the other end of the world which I have never searched for.
Google recently published new manual actions aimed at Google News and Discover penalties, but even sites without any actions against them are reporting that they have seen a drastic drop in their appearance. A point of consternation, however, is that there is no way publishers can control, restrict or remove content that appears in the Discover feed. Hence, a publisher might receive a manual action for something they had no intention of seeing in Discover.
And while there have been a few articles published on how to “optimise” for Google Discover, there is no real way to do so and some articles that appear in these feeds frequently fail to comply with the so-called content policies which Google claims to be a minimum requirement for consideration.
At the time of writing, there was no indication from any of Google’s public support channels that they had noticed an issue with the Discover channels and there had been no official confirmation of any algorithm updates in March, despite some of the search tools sensors indicating frequent volatility.